This App Could Help Fill Health-Care Gaps Created by Trump’s Title X ‘Gag Rule’

Planned Parenthood is expanding availability of its Direct app, which can be used to order birth control pills for home delivery in some states.

[Photo: A person holds a phone with an illuminated screen that shows different types of birth control.]
The newly expanded Planned Parenthood Direct app can be used to order birth control pills for home delivery, make appointments at Planned Parenthood clinics, or get a prescription for UTI treatment. KCCI / YouTube

By the end of 2020, people in all 50 states will have access to a Planned Parenthood app that offers easier access to contraception, including for patients who rely on the Title X-funded family planning services jeopardized by the Trump administration’s domestic “gag rule.”

The newly expanded Planned Parenthood Direct app can be used to order birth control pills for home delivery, make appointments at Planned Parenthood clinics, or get a prescription for UTI treatment.

Planned Parenthood on Wednesday announced its Direct app is now available in 27 states. It had previously been available in just six states as part of a pilot program launched in 2014.

Planned Parenthood clinics served 40 percent of people who access health services through Title X before the organization was forced to leave the program last month.

Planned Parenthood officials said the app’s expansion is critical as the Trump administration implements its domestic “gag rule” banning federal family planning funds from going to health-care clinics that provide or refer patients for abortions. On August 19, Planned Parenthood refused to comply with the rule’s anti-choice restrictions and instead left the federal funding program—a forced departure that has already affected the price of contraceptive services at some clinics. Reproductive rights advocates warned that the Title X family planning restrictions would force people with low incomes to travel long distances to access birth control.

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, said during a Wednesday press call that the administration’s attack on Title X would exacerbate the “vast unmet need for sexual and reproductive health care” in the United States. The domestic “gag rule” would fall especially hard on people of color and those with low incomes, McGill Johnson said, adding that the organization “will not let this administration … deter us from our mission of delivering health care and information to as many people as possible.”

People can use credit, debit, and prepaid cards to purchase birth control pills through the Direct app, though costs vary by state and health insurance can’t be used to purchase birth control through the app. In some states—Texas, New York, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.—people can use the app to request birth control pickup at their local pharmacy, where they can use insurance.

Kelly Gordon, an advanced practice clinician at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said in a statement that the app would help people “bypass” the barriers they face in obtaining birth control, providing “the same high-quality care that they would receive at a health center visit.”

Gordon said in Wednesday’s press call that many patients who use the Direct app work multiple jobs, have trouble finding childcare, or lack reliable transportation to make the long drive to a health clinic. She described one patient who lives in the Arctic Circle and uses the app to have birth control pills delivered to her door instead of driving hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic.

“Your access to health care should not depend on your zip code,” Gordon said.

Title X, the target of many Republican administrations, served more than 4 million people at 4,000 clinics nationwide before the “gag rule” went into effect.

Some states with Democratic legislative majorities have begun funding family planning clinics that pulled out of the Title X program, but clinics in most of the country are now forced to operate under the Trump administration’s anti-choice rules. This means they are prohibited from making abortion referrals, and will eventually be forced to physically and financially separate abortion services and Title X-funded services. The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments on September 23 in a legal challenge that could block enforcement of the restrictions.

Planned Parenthood’s free app is available in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

The Planned Parenthood Direct app is not the only way to obtain birth control online. A range of companies such as Nurx and Simple Health deliver birth control; like the Direct app, these sites allow people to consult with physicians about contraception options.